The Day After Holi

25 Mar

Having lived in Bangalore for almost all of my life, I’ve naturally experienced Bangalore’s ways of doing things. Before I moved out, Bangalore was my only reference point and it was my all (naturally!), and still largely is. So imagine my shock when Holi came because clearly I’ve been observing Holi in a way that is so, very unlike the way Holi is really celebrated. To be honest, one seldom knows it’s festival time in Bangalore barring the ones Bangaloreans celebrate with great gusto and grandeur; them being Sankranti, Ugadi, Ganesh Chaturti and Diwali (to some extent). This isn’t to say that the city and its people are intolerant to other festivals. It just all seems largely muted, tame and sombre…to an extent where one wonders whether it’s festival time or not. I’ve grown up amidst this and so when Holi came, I went about my usual business, nonchalant about the fact that maybe things wouldn’t be the same, because this isn’t Bangalore anymore.

My husband stocked up the day before Holi and asked me if I wanted to buy things; to which I didn’t pay much attention. Come Holi, we decided to visit relatives who stay at least two hours by road during traffic hours away from where we stay. We reached in under an hour. The city was dead…the otherwise always filled roads were empty, the crazy traffic was absent, malls were shut, booze shop shutters were down (it’s a big thing for booze shops to be shut here for they never close), vendors were missing from their usual spots, restaurants were empty and closed…nobody was outside. Residential areas saw groups of people walk around, smeared with colour…the main roads were barren. Metro trains were stationery, shopping markets were deserted. It sounds so eerie and it looked that way too. Bangalore during Holi is normal – nothing shuts, everything runs. Come to look at it, nothing shuts in Bangalore during a festival, except during Ayudha Puja when every machine is stopped, cleaned, worshiped. To find every single component of a city’s life missing was a new experience.

I was reminded about how big Holi and Diwali are as festivals…something I had become almost ignorant about over the years. It is a big deal to shut shop. It is a big deal to know what’s happening. And it is a big deal to merge with what’s happening. There are no options to not participate even if you do it in whichever way you like. And to tell you the truth, there is something extremely warm, welcoming and inclusive about that. Festivals and their celebrations go beyond the hows and whys and intellectualization of them. They’re about the here and now, they’re about the feeling and about embracing that feeling, minus any inhibitions. There is no room for offense, no space for armchair-ness.

In my mind, and like I’d mentioned here, I was prepared to hide, run away, make excuses… I had decided to do it the way I knew it and the way I like it – all food, no force, no colour. I had also inherently decided that everything else that didn’t go by this was wrong, rude and lacking of civility. Besides, the idea of mindlessly wasting water and smearing oneself with harmful chemicals is far from appealing and welcome to me. It’s therefore not much to imagine the mood my day started off with. Being crabby comes easily, I reckon.

But when the time came and it was almost a done thing to put some shagun ka gulal (a smear of colour for auspiciousness), it felt like the most beautiful, encompassing feeling to have my husband smear my face with the colours of Holi, the colours of Spring and for me to do the same to him. Of course, there are no points for guessing who was gentle and kind with the colours and who wasn’t, between the two of us (haha!). There was a sense of peace, gentility and love…so unlike what we imagine and have often seen the celebrations of Holi to be. There was lots of music, lots of dancing, lots of good food, lots of Holi milan (meeting each other during Holi), lots of togetherness and a sense of community that is so, so rare in today’s time. I imagined being caught by force and dunked with colours, water and everything too ghastly. But wherever I looked, people held small bags of colour, smearing each others faces…the act ending in an embrace. There were snippets of those ghastly Holi celebrations in some houses that I shamelessly peeped into, but that apart, it felt peaceful and gentle, at large…distinctly different from everything I associate with Holi, and therefore despise. Or maybe because this was my first Holi here, away from a place that observes it so starkly differently, that I was spared the actuality of its ways. Who knows?

Learning: All that’s in our head, is just there…in our head.

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